The Church of Our Lady of the Assumption, commonly known as the Santa Maria Church is the parish church of Santa Maria in Ilocos Sur province, Philippines. The church was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site on December 11, 1993 as part of the Baroque Churches of the Philippines, a collection of four Baroque Spanish-era churches.
The Santa Maria Church is an attraction to both tourists and Catholics in Ilocos Sur. It is not only a reminiscent of the four centuries of Spanish domination of that area but also a unique structure with a diversified architectural design of bricks and mortar. It was built on top of a hill not only as a lookout and a citadel but as a religious center during the early administration of the region by both the friars and soldiers of Spain.
The parish of Santa Maria started as a chapel-of-ease of Narvacan, its neighboring town to the north, in 1567. The influx of the settlers after the full conquest of the Ilocos Region by the Spaniards greatly increased the population of Santa Maria. The chapel became an independent ministry in 1769 and was dedicated to the Virgin Mary depicted as Our Lady of the Assumption. Besides economic progress, evangelical missions were expanded. The mission at Santa Maria, located on a narrow flat plain between the sea and the central mountain range of Luzon, close to the interior settlements, made Santa Maria as the center of both the religious and commercial activities.
According to the legend, before the Santa Maria Church was built on its present site, the Virgin Mary was enshrined at a different place called Bulala. The frequent disappearance of the Virgin Mary from her previous place of enthronement only to be found perched on a guava tree that grew where the present church is located, had led the townspeople to move the church to its present location.
Construction of the present church was started in 1765. In 1810, the bell tower was built during the renovation of the church and furnished with a bell the following year. During the renovation of church complex in 1863, the protective wall around the sides of the hill was constructed. After the bell tower was remodeled the same year, its foundation must have gradually settled down making the imposing structure slightly leaning or tilting as it appears today. The convent was greatly renovated in 1895.
The massive and imposing structure of the Santa Maria Church is not only an interesting landmark but it is also a memorial to the intrepid Christian missionaries who sacrificed and devoted their lives to spread the Christian faith in this region, the natives and the men of technical knowledge who erected the great structure and others who may in one way or another are credited to the building of the Santa Maria Church.